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Unique to the deserts of Dune, the awe-inspiring Shai-Hulud or giant sandworm is the cornerstone of the biosphere of Dune.These creatures are said to grow to several miles in length. They are sensitive to rhythmic ground vibrations. Their only weakness is too much water, which causes chemical reactions within their bodies to go awry. The sandworm is the main organism that produces oxygen on Arrakis, for the planet is too arid to sustain much plant life.

There is some mystery as to how sandworms reproduce, as no one has it seen it happening. Presumably the sandtrout represents some stage in life cycle. The role of the sandtrout is to wall up large bodies of water by linking together to form large cysts, and prevent the sandworms from being poisoned by water. Exactly at what point the sandtrout metamorphose into the giant Shai-Hulud and lose their toleration for water, becoming vulnerable to it is also not known.

That the sandworm produces oxygen as a waste product of its respiration is a curiosity. In other ecosysytems, the production of oxygen is performed by photosynthesising plants. The plants absorb energy from the sun, using it to power chemical reactions that dissociate oxygen from water molecules and binding CO2 into proteins and carbohydrate. These reactions are very energy-hungry, so plants are sedentary, immobile organisms. There is only so much photosynthesising the plant can do in a day, dictated by the total surface area of their leaves. This energy is better used for growing, rather than moving.

Also consider that sandworms spend most of their time underground, and you have a puzzle. Where do sandworms get their energy? And since there is very little other life for worms to eat, how do get get so big? Even if they had enough to eat, they should not be producing oxygen, but consuming it!

Cold Fusion

There are several possible solutions. One is that sandworms biologically perform cold fusion, fusing hydrogen nucleii from water to obtain tremendous amounts of energy. This energy is used to extract carbon from CO2 and to dissociate water in a process similar to photosynthesis. The process leaves plenty of energy left over for movement. It also makes for a fantastic growth rate.

However, even worms can't perform cold fusion indefinitely without overheating. They need some method to store the tremendous energies liberated by cold fusion, so that they can get by performing cold fusion at certain intervals. Perhaps they store energy by dissociating salts like sodium chloride, storing the reactive metals in places inside their bodies instead of producing fats. Upon reacting with other chemicals, metallic sodium gives a lot of energy. The need to take in salt explains why the sandworms have mouths.

The two mechanisms for producing and storing energy explains the sandworms' vulnerability to water. On the one hand, too much hydrogen causes the cold fusion process to run amok. Strange chemicals are produced, such as the highly priced spice. On the other hand is the reaction of water with the stores of reactive metals in their bodies. Either way, water "burns" Shai-Hulud in its adult form.

Sandtrout, on the other hand, have affinity to water, swarming to it and walling it up with their merged bodies. As every Fremen child knows, a sandtrout contains a small amount of sweet liquid. Many Fremen have consumed this syrup of a sandtrout. Like Shai-Hulud, sandtrout perform cold fusion as well. Unlike the sandworms, the sandtrout store their energy in the form of glucose and carbohydrate. Water does not harm sandtrout, perhaps because of their smaller size allowing excess heat to be radiated, and also they have no store of reactive metals.


At what point sandtrout transform into sandworm is not known. The life-cycle of Shai-Hulud is a mystery even to Fremen. Even their classification is questionable. Are they plant, or are they animal? The answer, perhaps, is neither. Fungi are now classified as a kingdom of their own, rather than as plants. Which is not to say that Sandworms are fungi. But a closer look at some species of fungi might be instructive.

Take the slime mold fungi, for example. The fungi is in the form of single-celled organisms, capable of moving by means of flagellae. They occur in large "swarms" like the sandtrout. Every now and again, these cells gather together into coherent "fruiting bodies", a structure ideal for genetic exchange and dissemination of spores. Afterwards the bodies dissolve into their separate cells.

A possible life-cycle for Shai-Hulud might be:

The sandtrout swarming and walling up water.

The haploid sandtrout merging together and transforming into the mighty diploid (polyploid?) Shai-Hulud. This form enables the organisms to roam the desert with less risk.

Growth powered by cold fusion.

A mature Shai-Hulud dissolves into large numbers of haploid sandtrout. The sandtrout mix together in several groups, the groups partitioning a body of water. There is genetic combination among the sandtrout.

The different groups merge forming several sandworms.

Sandtrout from several different sandworms may combine and exchange genes.

Sandworm Behaviour

The cold fusion process eliminates the need to eat anything, so defense of territories for food does not make sense. Sandworms will attack one another, in order to defend/possess a salt deposit, for example. Salt provides the energy-storage system for the sandworm. Another reason for the fighting might be to defend an area where the sandworm is preparing to dissolve and reproduce itself. Sandworms are very vulnerable in that stage, and the resultant sandtrout will not have had time to wall up a body of water which is deadly to sandworms. Sandworms will not attack sandtrout once they have walled up water, as the sandworm is vulnerable to water. But sandtrout that have not done so is vulnerable. A competing sandworm might destroy the sandtrout to reproduce itself.

If you find cold fusion hard to accept, well, so do I. That no organisms known can utilise something as useful as cold fusion is a very strong argument against it. An alternative source of energy for Shai-Hulud is by ingesting radioactive isotopes and letting the decay power the worm. The reactive metals then serve a secondary purpose: to shield the worm from radiation.

This is from a website.

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I think the sandworm-stage's purpose is to fix nitrogen with wormsign, like lightning does here. This nitrogen is crucial in the development of all proteins and enzymes. Territory is defended, because a sandworm needs to have enough ground over which to move, and build up enough speed to spark off wormsign due to friction.

This could mean that Holtzman fields mess up the worms' potential difference, which would explain why the worms go for shields and suspensors in the desert.

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